I have a lot of admiration for FIFA’s chief of global development Arsene Wenger, brought about by the meetings that I had with him when he was Arsenal manager.
I recall David Dein, who at the time was an Arsenal director and one of the original founders of the Premier League, arranging for me to visit Radlett training ground to meet Wenger and discuss refereeing issues with him.
I had the previous day watched Arsenal lose to Bolton Wanderers where they had been out-muscled by Sam Allardyce’s tactics, thanks to the wonderful skills from Jay-Jay Okotcha and the strength of Kevin Davies.
During our conversation, Wenger enquired how I measured referees’ performances and the type of training that we did.
I pulled out my laptop and started to run through the Arsenal vs Bolton game using PROZONE – an analysis tool that not only allowed me to show the video, but every foul, every offside, distance and speed profiles of every player and the referee.
I highlighted our training regimes, the involvement of sports psychologists, nutritionists and the work of our wonderful sports scientist, Prof Matt Weston,
Wenger extended the meeting and I sat with him and the players over lunch. Arsenal, under his management, sustained some wonderful skills over many years and, though difficult to officiate at times, were a highly entertaining team.
Last week in his new FIFA role, via an interview with L’Equipe, Wenger detailed his plans to host a World Cup every two years.
The format proposed by the Frenchman would also see continental tournaments take place every two years, alternating every year with the World Cup, while qualifiers would be grouped together into either one or two longer international breaks.
The goal behind Wenger’s thinking appears to be to set a goal to keep improving the quality of football by increasing the frequency of competitions, alongside an improvement to the laws of the game. The international calendar will remain stable until 2024, since it’s already set. But after 2024, there’s a chance to change it.
I would like to increase the frequency of competition, in a way that’s led by simplicity, a clear calendar, and a desire to only organise competitions that have a real meaning to them, which are those which allow an improvement in the level of football.
In my long-ago discussion with Wenger, it was evident that he preferred referees to penalise every foul, and not to allow advantage to be applied. The protection of players was at the forefront of his thinking, but I formed the opinion that the stoppage of the game and the award of more set-piece free-kicks enhanced his team’s ability to score more goals,
I therefore wonder in his very influential position with FIFA what impact he will have on future changes to the laws of the game. After all, FIFA hold 50% of the voting power.
Wenger is also likely to have the influential Peirluigi Collina, FIFA’s head of referees, to support any changes put forward.
We have already been made aware that FIFA are working on Law 11, offside, with the intention of something similar to goal-line technology taking human intervention out of the process by moving to an automatic offside signal.
I hope that he will also research the amount of time lost in games and support the future introduction of an independent timekeeper.
We will watch this space to see what changes will take place.
FIFA should follow UEFA advice on racist abuse
Football has a real problem and competitions around the world appear to have a difficulty of finding a solution to the problem of racist abuse. It is difficult to understand why the stadium ban imposed by UEFA on Hungary banning spectators from their games did not apply to a FIFA World Cup competition.
I was also disappointed that experienced Referee Cuneyt Cakir did not apply the three-step process to deal with the problem that England players had to endure in the Hungary vs England match.
So Mr Wenger and FIFA, why not adopt the UEFA advice to referees?
If the referee becomes aware of racist behaviour, or is informed of it by the fourth official, he will stop the game. He will then request an announcement to be made over the public address system asking spectators to immediately stop any racist behaviour.
If the racist behaviour does not cease after the game has restarted, the referee will suspend the match for a reasonable period of time, for example five to ten minutes, and request teams to go to the dressing rooms. A further announcement is made over the public address system.
As a final resort, if the racist behaviour continues after a second restart, the referee can definitively abandon the match. The UEFA delegate responsible for the match will assist the referee, through the fourth official, in determining whether the racist behaviour has ceased. Any decision to abandon the match will only be taken after all other possible measures have been implemented and the impact of abandoning the match on the security of the players and public has been assessed.
After the match, the case is referred to UEFA’s disciplinary authorities.